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Machu Picchu: Threatened by Tourism?

In early July, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) considered placing Machu Picchu, one of the top tourist destinations in South America, on its list of endangered World Heritage sites. The addition of Machu Picchu to the list has been lobbied by conservation and environmental groups in hopes that international attention would help spur preservation actions.

Deforestation, landslides, and urban development are threatening the site. The number of visiting tourists has more than doubled in the last ten years and is now at around 800,000 people. The ruins and the nearby gateway town of Aguas Calientes are hard-pressed to handle the massive growth in tourism.

These issues have been developing for years. In April 2004, 1500 people were stranded and at least 6 were killed when two large mudslides occurred in Aguas Calientes. 1400 tourists were stranded in 2005 when an avalanche wrecked a portion of the train tracks between Cusco and Machu Picchu. There is widespread concern that these types of incidents will only increase.

Due to increasing international pressure, the Peruvian government recently proposed a $132.5 million plan to preserve the ruins. The plan would restore parts of the site, install surveillance cameras, and upgrade the entry ticket controls. The government has also been working to clean up the Inca Trail and restrict the number of trekkers.

Adding a site to the List of World Heritage in Danger is meant to provide immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund. It also informs the international community of the situation with the hope that the right people will respond to save the site.

Ultimately, UNESCO decided to not add any sites to their List of World Heritage in Danger (www.unesco.org/en/danger/) which consists of 30 sites right now.

They did request “reinforced monitoring” for Machu Picchu. Under reinforced monitoring, experts will periodically examine and evaluate the conditions at Machu Picchu and report changes to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

The Peruvian archaeological site of Chan Chan is already on the List of World Heritage in Danger. It was placed there in 1986 (the same year it was added to the World Heritage List), due to erosion of its earthen structures.

Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands were added to the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2007 due to uncontrolled tourism, human immigration, and invasive species.

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